Yup! I’m one of those! I am an unapologetic Quentin Tarantino fanatic! Every single one of his directorial films have been my favorite film of their respective year (with the exception of INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, which came in at number 2 that year behind BLACK DYNAMITE). There’s just something about his tastes and choices that exactly align with mine. His films connect with me because he loves all the films I love. He is not just a filmmaker trying to make a great movie. He is a film geek that has such a huge passion for cinema, that he expresses his love by making these huge love letters to the movies that inspire him. In most of his past films, he usually references Spaghetti Westerns, but he has never actually made a western… until NOW! Ever since KILL BILL, I have been waiting to see what kind of western he would come up with. So when it was announced about 2 years ago that he was making a western, I was more than thrilled. I could not wait to see this film. In fact, I was so impatient…. that I read the script when it leaked online last June (which is normal for me since I read both the KILL BILL and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS script before I saw those). Driving to the theater over 2 weeks ago to see the press screening was one of the longest drives in my life. This was obviously my most anticipated film since BASTERDS was released 3 and a half years ago.
DJANGO UNCHAINED is Quentin’s entry into the western genre. (No, it is not a remake in any way, shape or form of the 1966 DJANGO, though it was one of the many films that this movie drew inspiration from). It takes place a few years before the Civil war as Jamie Foxx plays Django, a slave who is freed by a German bounty hunter named Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). You see, Schultz is searching for his latest bounty and Django knows what they look like. So in exchange of his freedom, Django will help the good doctor find the Brittle brothers. The two end up becoming friends with Schultz learning that Django’s wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) was taken from him and sold to another plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). The duo end up tracking her down to Candieland (headed by Candie obviously), a place where Mandingo fighters are trained to fight. They pretend to be interested in buying a fighter, but Candie’s loyal Uncle Tom-like house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) is immediately suspicious of the two, which throws a monkey wrench into their plans.
I see a lot of movies every year. Close to about 300 new ones. It’s easy to get bored with movies. Especially when it seems that Hollywood just isn’t trying anymore. We get so many movies like THE GUILT TRIP, WILD HOGS, BOUNTY HUNTER, and countless other generic Tim Allen run-of-the-mill comedies, that it makes one not want to venture out to the theater anymore. Someone asked me once, “Why do you hate mediocre movies so much?”. Well, my answer to that is: “movies like DJANGO UNCHAINED make me hate them so much!” You see, as a filmmaker myself, I feel like that if I was given an opportunity to make a feature film that would be getting theatrical distribution, I would direct the fuck out of that movie. So when I see a movie like GUILT TRIP that doesn’t try hard at all, it pisses me off. They had the opportunity to make A MOVIE, and they didn’t even try!!! Well… THANK THE “MOVIE GODS” FOR QUENTIN TARANTINO, because he MAKES MOVIES!!! Hell yeah, he does! This is the reason why I go the movies!!! THIS IS WHAT MOVIES CAN DO!!!
So, how is Quentin’s latest? It’s a damned near masterpiece, that’s how it is. My expectations were high since I loved the script so much, and the film is even better than what I read on the page. The ending was changed (for the better) and some unneeded exposition was taken out. And I got to see the characters I loved so much in the script fully realized, and it’s just so much better than what I imagined! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!
I loved the story so much! It’s a classic tale of redemption and vengeance. The characters pop off the screen as they chew the scenery, reciting Quentin’s marvelous words. Just like some of the best westerns (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, THE DOLLARS TRILOGY), this is a beautifully long epic. It’s nearly 3 hours, but I could have sat for 3 more through this treat of a film. The first half of the film has a great buddy feel to it as Schultz teaches Django the ropes on how to be a bounty hunter. Then in the second act, it takes a dramatically darker turn as the duo descend into Candieland. There are twists and turns, and since no character is ever safe in a Tarantino film, the tension is extremely high during even the quietest of moments. That final act is loaded with explosive violence and an immensely satisfying conclusion that made this film geek cheer and applaud in his seat out loud. I haven’t felt this great watching a movie since…. well… Quentin’s last film!
The acting by everyone is outstanding. Christoph Waltz is so great as the deliciously playful Schultz (Quentin wrote the role specifically for him), that my brother whispered to me during the first 15 minutes: “… And the Oscar goes to…” He’s just as good here as he was as the Jew Hunter in BASTERDS, for which he won Best Supporting Actor for. Leonardo DiCaprio (who doesn’t appear in the film until 1 hour and 2 minutes into the proceedings), seems to be having a ball playing the bad guy here. He’s got a great southern drawl, and has a wildly rambunctious personality that makes him unpredictable. Kerry Washington has a small role as Broomhilda, but she gives her brief screen time a good amount of dramatic weight.
As usual, Quentin sprinkles a lot of veteran character actors throughout his film. The great James Remar plays, count em’, 3 characters and is traffic in all three. Don Johnson plays his part with the sleeze of an evil Col. Sanders. The movie also features, Michael Parks, Bruce Dern, Dennis Christopher, Franco Nero (who played the original Django), Jonah Hill, Tom Savini, Zoe Bell, Robert Carradine (I didn’t spot him, so I can’s wait to see it again!), and Quentin Tarantino gives himself a role and a phony accent that cracked me up a lot. I know he’s not a great actor, but he’s having so much fun in this part and I think he’s supposed to be like those bad character actors from the 70’s here too. Walton Goggins must also be mentioned. He took over the part after Kurt Russell left the film due to a “Scheduling conflict” (yeah right), and though the part has been trimmed down a lot, he makes a lasting impression.
Now to the 2 best performances of the film. Samuel L. Jackson probably has the most interesting character. Stephen is this ornery house slave who likes things the way they are, and is threatened by anything or anyone that wants to change that. No one says Quentin’s dialogue quite the way he does. It’s such a pleasure hearing Jackson freely throwing around F-Bombs and the N-word. His performance is at the same time hilarious, intimidating, and menacing. One moment, he’s joking around, the next he’s torturing you. If you think Leo’s the main villain, think again! Every little vocal inflection and facial tick provided by Jackson here is fascinating to behold. Now, with all of these great, scenery chewing performances, most people have not really been talking about Jamie Foxx as Django. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t sure how he would do. He doesn’t say or emote a whole lot during the first act, but as the movie went on, I began to see just what Foxx was doing. It’s a beautifully understated performance that involves a lot of observing and listening. Simple reactions end up being very revealing for this character. Also, Django’s character arc is pretty amazing. He grows slowly as the movie progresses, and I loved seeing him turn from a scared, helpless slave, to a full-fledged action hero. The transition is believable and complete. And Foxx also fits in nicely with Tarantino’s ensemble of actors, as the dialogue rolls naturally off his tongue. It’s great work that I feel will improve upon more viewings.
Tarantino is my absolute favorite working filmmaker today. I love movies! So does he! I loved spotting all the different movie references throughout the film. It’s beautifully directed! Every shot, every angle, every frame, every cut, every musical choice, every line of dialogue is full of deep passion. You can feel it! There are so many terrific set pieces here. The opening title sequence (followed by the faded 70’s Columbia Pictures logo) is a collection of awesome images as slaves are marching across mountain sides and deserts as the 1966 Django theme blares on the soundtrack (I’ve listened to the soundtrack endlessly for a week now). What a great way to start the movie! I won’t go into the details of the scenes though. That is for you to discover on your own. In fact, try to avoid the trailers for the film, as I feel that it gives a way some of the great pay off moments, and you don’t want to cheat yourself out of those.
There are too many things to mention that I loved about this movie. I loved Waltz! I loved Jackson! I loved Foxx! I loved DiCaprio! I loved that James Remar plays 3 characters! I loved that Schultz’s horse bows his head when he’s introduced! I loved seeing Luke Duke on the big screen! I loved all the 70’s zooms! I loved the use of old Spaghetti Western soundtracks! I loved that a Jim Croce song fits perfectly in this bloody western! I loved the bags on head scene! I loved Django’s powder blue suit! I loved it when Schultz tells Django a story like he was his kid! I loved all the montages! I loved “You sure you want me to shake your hand?”! I loved Jackson’s head shaking like he had Parkinson’s! I loved the dialogue! I loved that Quentin used squibs instead of CG-blood, giving the film a much more brutal feel! I loved the ridiculousness of the extended shootout! I loved that the movie doesn’t end where you think it’s going to end! I loved the final stand-off (and how funny it was)! I loved how dark the film gets! I loved how this movie made me cheer! I loved how this movie made me love movies again! And I love it that I live in a world where this movie can exist! I loved EVERY FUCKING THING about this movie! I can’t wait to see this movie 10 more times in the theater!
Quentin Tarantino has made a masterpiece! It’s the ultimate film geek cinematic treat. It’s dark, brutal, funny, compelling, engaging, exciting, expertly crafted and brilliantly conceived. If you want to give yourself a present during the Holidays, take your ass to see DJANGO UNCHAINED as fast as you can! And then……. see it again! This is why we go the movies folks! ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for strong graphic violence throughout, a vicious fight, language and some nudity.
– Running time: 2hrs45min.